By Steve Keating
LIMA (Reuters) – The front page of FIBA’s website offers a little teaser about its latest project: “From the streets to the Olympics” says basketball’s world governing body in a pitch for the 3×3 version of the game.
While the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games is where the sport will have its big reveal, there are a few stops along the way to Japan, including this week in Lima where 3×3 went “From the streets to the Pan Am Games”.
If the excited holiday crowd packed into the quaint Coliseo Eduardo Dibos on Monday was any indication, the three-a-side version of hoops, played on a half-court, could be a Tokyo Olympic hit.
Despite having no basketball pedigree and little exposure to the sport beyond NBA highlight packages, Peruvians seemed genuinely fascinated by the 3×3 version where the winner is the first team to 21 points, or ahead after the 10-minute regulation period.
The U.S. men did not need the full 10 minutes to get the job done, Jonathan Octeus draining two free throws to seal a 21-19 win over Puerto Rico while the women completed an unbeaten run to the gold by stopping Argentina 21-17.
“We are definitely the pioneers, first team to win the 3×3 gold medal; I’m glad it was the USA,” Octeus told Reuters. “This game is going to grow.
“In the Americas it is not as big but the Europeans, from my understanding, they have been playing this game for 10, 15, 20 years so it is crazy to see their growth and see what might happen over the next 10 years with the 3×3 game in the Americas.”
The gold-medal contests looked much like something you might see in any park, schoolyard or playground in the United States, or Paris or Shanghai for that matter.
While the 3×3 version is played now in every corner of the globe, the game as a competitive entity remains largely unknown.
FIBA has methodically introduced the sport, starting with the 2010 Youth Olympics in Singapore where 3×3 had its first international competition.
That was followed by its Asian Games debut in 2018 and another first at the Pan Am Games.
FIBA also operates a 3×3 World Tour that this season consists of 11 events culminating with the final in November in Utsunomiya, Japan.
Many sports have recently trended towards condensed versions of their games in a bid to widen their appeal
Rugby sevens, Twenty20 cricket and mixed curling are among the sports that have benefited from giving fans fast, bite-size versions of their games.
Three-on-three does that and more with its fast-paced action played out to a blaring hip-hop sound track.
“Not a lot of people know about three-on-three; I just learned about it two years but I think it’s growing,” said Christyn Williams, who contributed five points to the U.S. win. “Winning gold will make a huge impact.
“It is a new sport for the U.S. so us playing in this benefited it.
“Since I started playing it has grown a lot so I think us playing in it and showing it to the U.S. it will grow even more.”
(Editing by Clare Fallon)